The ping of aluminum isn’t the only pop concerning LSU coach Paul Mainieri during fall practice. In a battle to replace Johnny Bench Award finalist and All-American Kade Scivicque behind the plate, Michael Papierski and Jordan Romero are tasked with taming a speedy group of newcomers who are looking to steal bases in just about any situation during fall scrimmages.
Though Mainieri said Papierski maintains an edge over Romero - a former Catholic High standout and LSU Eunice transfer - it’s the duo’s pop times that have Mainieri calmed whenever either is behind the plate.
“Romero throws as good as anybody you’ll ever see,” Mainieri said. “His pop times are ridiculous, big league level. Papierski’s thrown great all summer as well. Papierski’s catching skills are superior and he’s hit better than Romero this fall, though Romero has swung the bat well (on Tuesday and Wednesday). That’s good to see so hopefully he’ll keep it up.”
A pop time, calculated when runners try to steal, is the time from when a pitch hits - or pops - a catcher’s mitt to the time the catcher’s throw pops a middle infielder’s glove covering second. LSU volunteer assistant and catching coach Will Davis said Romero’s pop times sit around 1.85-1.95 seconds while Papierski clocks in around 1.88-1.98.
For reference, Davis said Scivicque’s pop times were around 1.95 in games last season. Romero’s receiving skills could use the most work, Mainieri said. Those include setting up to catch the pitch, body movement as the pitch is being thrown and presenting the pitch to the umpire.
It’s clear, though, that his arm is keeping him in the battle with Papierski. Papierski, whom Mainieri expected to start last season before Scivicque’s steady emergence, said Wednesday he’s working to become a more vocal leader. Scivicque, normally reserved and of few words, found his voice toward the end of last season and became the team’s leader at its most visible position.
“I need to be more vocal and take charge of this team and lead us to a national championship,” Papierski said. “Everyone looked at (Scivicque) a lot. The whole team is looking at the catcher, so everybody’s watching him. He really took over the team at the end of the year … In high school I was (vocal) a little bit, but I can always improve. I like to be a little louder, even here.”
Those pop times get tested in just about every scrimmage inning, said Mainieri, who has watched the improvement of his running game since fall practice began, but cited room for improvement on the mound.
Aside from Alex Lange, who worked very quickly to the mound in his four-inning stint on Wednesday, Mainieri said pitchers need to be more cognizant of the speed with which they work to the plate, as more deliberate deliveries often allow for runners to get better jumps on the basepaths.
Luckily, new speedsters Cole Freeman, Antoine Duplantis and Brennan Breaux have a continuous green light to work out the kinks.
“Every time they’re getting on, they’re going, so our catchers have had a lot of practice of trying to throw runners out and they’ve done it pretty well,” Mainieri said. “With the less home runs in the game, stolen bases become such an important part and stopping the other team from stealing bases is equally as important.”